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Five reasons why cycling is good for place branding

16 July 2014 Jim Harrison,

Two Heavenly clients, Northern Ireland and Calderdale Council, have been involved in hosting major cycling events in 2014. Roger Pride gives five reasons why cycling events can be good for places.

This year the UK has played host to two major European Cycling Events. Events which for a short time left their home countries in search of new audiences and fresh sources of income.

Recently Yorkshire basked in the summer sun and in the reflected glory of the successful hosting of Le Grand Depart. It seemed that everybody in Yorkshire went Tour de France mad. Every town and community along the route played their part in creating a memorable occasion. In May the Giro D’Italia – the Italian equivalent of the Tour De France chose Northern Ireland for its “Big Start”. I was fortunate to be in Belfast at the time and saw first-hand how the community took the event to its heart. Every business played their part in helping to turn Belfast pink for a week.

On the face of it, cycling is hardly the most rewarding of spectator sports. You stand for hours waiting for the peloton to speed past for all of 20 seconds.  I suspect that few of the 2million spectators in Yorkshire were cycling enthusiasts – I very much doubt that many could name the winner of either of the stages. So what is it about these cycling events that gets everybody so excited and encourages destinations to pay millions of pounds for the privilege?

I think there are 5 reasons why the biggest cycling events are in such demand from competing destinations.

Firstly it’s a free to view event. There is no entry fee for spectators, so everybody can see it – even if it’s only for 20 seconds.

Secondly it’s an open, shared event– it isn’t confined to a stadium or golf course or even to a single city. This allows lots of communities along the route to play a part, it creates a sense of friendly competition with each town and village vying to compete for the prize of the most colourful and enthusiastic along the route.

Thirdly it’s easy to access the “brand”. All you need to do to be a part of the occasion is to paint something yellow or pink – shop fronts, pubs, even minsters and sheep have had the same treatment. Or if you are really creative you can make a bike out of...well virtually anything. And because it’s summer it’s a great excuse for fancy dress – how many gendarmes and onion sellers did you spot? All of the first three factors allowed for a great sense of occasion, each community had a day long street party and I imagine the local businesses all benefited. The additional spend is huge and it isn’t confined to city centres.

Fourthly it makes for great television exposure. The very nature of the event means that it is an opportunity to truly showcase your destination. I watched the network coverage and there were lots of aerial views and stories about local sites and history. Things that traditional advertising simply could not buy. Football and rugby are great but unless it’s a mega event such as the World Cup all you get to see on television is the inside of a stadium.

Finally it creates a real opportunity for legacy. I have been working with Calderdale in West Yorkshire and they have worked hard to capitalise on the Tour to enhance the reputation of the area as a cycling destination. Their Innercyclist campaign is designed to draw visitors to the area long after the professional cyclists have gone.

I haven’t even mentioned the health and fitness legacy but I suspect that most people who saw the Tour spent most of the day in a local beer garden!

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